1,000 small businesses get coronavirus rent reprieve from Florida developer

A Florida-based developer is offering a reprieve to more than 1,000 tenants whose businesses were gutted by an economic shutdown intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sleiman Enterprises says it’s “taking the pressure off” occupants across more than 90 properties stretching from Virginia to South Florida, evaluating the status of each business and what the owners need to stay afloat.

In some cases, it’s moving April and May rents to the back ends of leases, when tenants expect revenue to be flowing once more, or perhaps allowing them to pay the two months’ rent in small increments once the economy reopens. Tenants who qualify for those options would still be responsible for real estate taxes, building insurance, and maintenance fees.

The concessions show how some businesses are working cooperatively with clients to navigate the economic swoon, which has threatened retailers large and small across the U.S.

While tinier businesses were eligible for government assistance via small business loans, many struggled to access the money since the original funding was quickly depleted.

Sleiman, a family-owned company, has expanded over its 65-year history from buying and selling small pieces of land in and around Jacksonville to developing full grocery-anchored neighborhood shopping centers that include marquee tenants such as Publix, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target, BJ’s Wholesale Clubs and Starbucks.

Founded by Eli Sleiman Sr., the business is now co-owned by his three sons, Eli Jr., Anthony and Joseph, who are focused on maintaining lasting relationships with each tenant.

While the developer’s grocery store lessees have benefited from the shutdown, becoming a vital source of supplies for people forced to stay inside their homes, the company is looking out for the adjacent smaller tenants who haven’t fared nearly so well.

“These tenants are critical to how a shopping center serves a community and must be supported to the greatest extent possible.” Sleiman’s chief operating officer, Michael McNaughton, told FOX Business.

Even though many occupants have halted or greatly reduced their operations amid the crisis, the developer’s “goal is to make sure these guys don’t leave forever,” he said.

Although its efforts have been complicated by the fact that its own employees are working from home due to shelter-in-place orders, Sleiman is assisting tenants who are still open and informing all lessees about local, state and federal programs available to them.

“How you treat people during the hardest times speaks volumes to the kinds of relationships you have,” McNaughton said, adding that the real estate industry is built on such relationships.

“If we can hold our hands together, we can walk through this door together,” co-owner Joseph Sleiman told FOX Business.

In the meantime, the company is also posting on its website and social media channels which of its tenants are still open for business so residents can check before leaving their homes.

To see the article on Fox Business, click here and to watch the interview, click here.